Hi Dr K,

Have you heard about “pulling” for whitening teeth? I’d love to hear more about that.


Dr. Annie K. loves questions and this is a good one.


Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic Indian home remedy that dates back over 3,000 years and continues to be popular. The concept is that prolonged presence of certain oils in the mouth can improve overall health by “pulling” toxins from the body.

The process of oil pulling sounds simple: swirl any type of edible oil – usually coconut, sunflower or sesame oil – in your mouth for 15-20 minutes. Then spit it out and brush your teeth as usual.

According to the book Oil Pulling Therapy, it exerts a powerful cleansing and healing effect on the entire body. Teeth whitening, better breath, reduction of plaque and gum disease have all been anecdotally reported. The author suggests it may help with with allergies, chronic fatigue, diabetes and migraine headaches.

I get a headache just thinking of swishing oil for 20 minutes. Swallowing is not allowed! The toxins are pulled into the oil – the last thing you want is to swallow it.

I am skeptical about anything that is presented as a panacea for all ills. I am curious about it working in regards to teeth whitening – the perennial challenge. My attempts at it so far have been unsuccessful. 

I have tried whitening strips, whitening toothpaste, avoiding dark drinks (impossible).

On Valentines Day last year my dentist was selling the traditional teeth whitening set for half off. I thought it was such a clever Valentines Day gimmick ???? . I tried it a few times but the viscosity of the gel was too uncomfortable and it was constantly leaking out of the mold. I could barely keep them on the recommended time. I considered Zoom teeth whitening but it involves sitting in a dentist chair, one of the last places in the world I’d like to be.

N is a young woman who has been experimenting with this practice and I asked her for some first hand impressions. She heard about it on Pinterest. The main difference she reported was that her “breath felt fresher”. She emphasized the importance of using quality, pleasant tasting oil.

She found the swishing “annoying and hard” but she got used to the sensation. She has not noticed a difference in the color of her teeth, but attributes that to lifestyle factors (smoking, lots of coffee)

In a National Institutes of Health study, The effect of oil pulling with coconut oil to improve dental hygiene and oral health: A systemic review, an extensive review of clinical trials was conducted. It was concluded that limited evidence shows it may have a beneficial effect. Further studies are needed but it suggests that oil pulling can be used as an adjunct to normal preventative regimes. One review found that oil pulling is as effective as chlorhexidine mouthwash in reducing plaque. Plaque is the evil that leads to tooth decay, inflammation and potential for systemic disease. Not to mention with less plaque clinging to your teeth, there may be less staining.

In spite of the NIH conclusion, the American Dental Association has stated that there is insufficient evidence to support the practice. 

The importance of healthy teeth goes beyond the cosmetic appeal – it is critical for heart health as well. Good oral hygiene and white teeth are highly correlated with confidence and self esteem.  Many studies have shown the importance of kissing in human mating ????. Why not try a natural way to improve the look and feel of your teeth?


My recommendation would be to try it! Oil pulling is a safe practice. Coconut oil is cheap and available  Who doesn’t want whiter teeth? Share your experiences with Loveandmedicine!

And remember: